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Homes destroyed, hospital evacuated due to northern California wildfires

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August 1, 2014: This photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows the Eiler Fire burning near Old Station, California. (AP/U.S. Forest Service)

Firefighters were focusing on two wildfires near each other in Northern California that have burned through more than 100 square miles of terrain -- one of which was menacing a small town and prompted the evacuation of a long-term care hospital.

The Shasta County sheriff had Burney on an evacuation watch after ordering residents of three small neighboring communities to leave on Saturday night. The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said more than 700 residences were threatened.

The two fires, among 14 burning in the state, started within a day of each other in Lassen National Forest and had expanded into private property. About 102 square miles had been scorched as of late Sunday night, up from 39 square miles a day earlier.

Burney was threatened by the more destructive of the two, prompting officials at Mayer Memorial Hospital to evacuate their 49-bed annex for patients with dementia and other conditions requiring skilled nursing. The patients were transferred to a hospital in Redding, about 55 miles away, the hospital reported on its website.

Authorities reported that eight homes had burned.

Evacuations also remained in effect for a community on the edge of the second fire, which was sparked by lightning Wednesday. About 40 homes were at risk, officials said.

State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dennis Mathisen said Sunday that the two fires were burning through timber and brush left parched by the state's extended drought. He predicted that the coming week promises not to be any easier.

"Today we are looking at slightly cooler temperatures, but Northern California continues to be hot and dry and breezy in some areas, and in fact we are looking at a fire weather watch going into effect Monday morning for a large portion of Northern and northeast California and possible thunderstorms, which could mean more lightning," he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying the circumstances and magnitude of the wildfires are beyond the control of any single local government and will require the combined forces of regions to combat.

Siskiyou County, which borders Oregon, also was contending with two major fires, both started by lightning last week. One of them, which began in Oregon, threatened hundreds of structures and charred nearly 58 square miles in both states as of late Sunday, including 14 square miles on the California side. It burned three homes and other structures, and evacuations remained in place for several neighborhoods in both states.

Federal fire officials said that along with working to protect homes, one of their priorities was to safeguard a water station that supplies the city of Yreka. Brown secured a federal grant to cover 75 percent of the cost to fight the blaze.

Meanwhile, federal officials asked residents in two communities southwest of Yreka to start preparing to evacuate because of advancing flames from a cluster of blazes that had charred 8.6 square miles by Sunday.

Evacuation orders were lifted in Modoc County near the community of Day, where a lightning-sparked blaze that started Wednesday had torched 20 square miles.

In Washington state, a wildfire that started during a lightning storm Saturday night burned about a dozen homes, authorities said.

Officials said the so-called Snag Canyon Fire near Ellensburg had burned just under 3 square miles and was prompting evacuation notices. They said residents of about 180 homes in the area had either been urged to evacuate or alerted that they might have to leave quickly if conditions worsen.

North of that blaze, firefighters contained another wildfire that started Friday and burned six to eight homes.

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